It is a sunny day. You are at a funfair. With Kylie Minogue. And that, essentially, is what listening to her latest album is like. There are no discordant, unhappy notes to Aphrodite. It is summer, you are chasing yourself on the merry-go-round, laughing, hair waving in your face. It's all whoops and high jinks until the end of the day when you have to get back into a hot, sweaty car and you suddenly want to vomit after eating too much candyfloss.
This sickly feeling is one that may steal upon you after sitting through all 44 minutes of this album, the 11th studio release from an artist that we must apparently all still refer to as "Pop Princess." The woman's 42 now. Come on. Aphrodite has been widely touted (mostly by Parlophone, her long-standing record label) as Kylie's comeback album. This is presumably because her previous comeback album, X, wasn't as successful as its predecessors. Sure, it went platinum in Australia and the UK (Kylie could release a recording of her burping the alphabet in Australia and it would go platinum), but it couldn't match the pop gold of Fever and it contained nothing to rival Can't Get You Out Of My Head or In Your Eyes. But the thing is, the same applies to Aphrodite. Sure, it's a roller-coaster whirl through 12 tracks of Kylie breathiness and plush, club-ripe arrangements, but there's a distinct feeling of padding to proceedings.
Throughout her publicity blitz for this record, Kylie has spewed the usual stuff about being completely herself on this album and how happy that has made her. Often she has attributed this to her executive producer, Stuart Price, who whisked her to his West London studio but got rid of the vocal booth and had her sing in the same room with an old-school microphone. "I can hear that smile on the record and that's so important, that's what I respond to," Price has said. But the point remains that they haven't come up with anything ground-breaking here, although that doesn't make it a bad piece of work - just disappointing.
Things strike out with the lead single, All The Lovers, a euphoric, electro tune ripe for remixing and which will no doubt have the hordes waving their hands about in Ibiza. But it also smacks of her 2004 single, I Believe In You. A collaboration with Keane's Tim Oxley-Rice is a let-down. The song may be called Everything Is Beautiful, but everything is not. This track for starters, which is monotonous. Her effort with Calvin Harris, Too Much, is similarly unexciting. Demonstrably Harris in electro-working, it's the kind of repetitive, squeaky record that could be used to advertise a new reality series on MTV. And a word, too, on Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love). This title is amateurish. Do those in clubs waving glowsticks above their heads need to be instructed to do so anymore? No.
More interesting is Closer, in which a harpsichord provides the backing chords to an exuberant disco anthem. Better Than Today is another quirky, club-friendly romp that provided the starting point for the entire album. Written together with the singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot and her other half, the producer Andy Chatterley, it's the kind of sound that might emanate from a locked room containing Kylie, Lily Allen and the Scissor Sisters.
Cupid Boy is one of the stronger numbers too. It's Kylie, probably in hot pants, doing her best come hither impression. "So why don't you thrill me like you did before?" she growls. Well, that's a question she should perhaps be asking herself, because touting Aphrodite as a comeback on the level of Fever is misleading. Yes there's some good, but there's plenty that we've heard before too. Criticising Kylie feels like swearing at the Dalai Lama, but this is a princess that needs a slight prod.
Big Boi Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty Def Jam Adventurous, long-awaited solo outing by Antwan "Big Boi" Patton - one half of OutKast - aims high, boasting samples of massed choirs and orchestras (courtesy of a sample of Georg Solti's Aida), plus guest appearances by George Clinton and R&B wünderkind Jonelle Monáe.
Cherry Ghost Beneath This Burning Shoreline Heavenly The Ivor Novello-winner Simon Aldred extends his considerable talent for crafting quiet yet stately country-tinged pop - elevated here by mariachi strings and Spector-esque horn arrangements. A splendid, satisfying follow-up to their 2007 debut, Thirst For Romance.